I've tried writing this blog post about three times already. Every time, words have failed me; or I them. At times I am too bitter, at times too whiney, at times it just seems like a rant. At times I am too chipper, I turn something impactful into a quick joke with a turn of a phrase, I gloss over the parts that I think will make me sound bitter. And I struggle to strike that balance between reality, emotion, and the perspective that time creates. It isn't just for a blog post. I've tried to write about it before, just to clear my mind, just to take that experience, that weight, that package out of my heart and unwrap it onto paper or a screen. But maybe it hasn't been long enough. Maybe it's one of those things that makes a chapter in a memoir, sixty years after the fact. Maybe it's because I didn't write about it at the time itself. Too much distance? Too little distance? Who knows. What I do know is that if I try to write about the experience I cannot even think of a title. "Moving" or "Middle School and High School" or "The Immigrant Experience" or "New Kid on the Block" or "The Wonder Years." See, even now I resort to gimmicky references to bygone pop culture to push under the rug something I still don't understand myself but that has been such a large part of my still-short life story, and one that has been so impactful as well.
Friends have asked:
- Was it difficult for you, to move to a new place, a different country, at that age?
And I give my much practiced and much perfected answer with just hints of hestitation thrown in here and there at exactly the right moment to give the effect of a spur of the moment spontaneous response:
- Yea sure, I mean, I don't know. It's difficult at first, ya know, you're leaving all of your friends and stuff. And I went to an all girls' school! Imagine being thrown into a middle school with boys! Even girls who'd been in co-ed school all along didn't know what to do with that! But I mean, you know, you make friends, you learn the culture, you find your niche, and suddenly it's like you're a part of it. So yea, it's kind of tough, but it teaches you a lot about adapting to a new environment, ya know? And then you're fine.
Every time I say it a little part of me mocks myself. Didn't I cringe when my parents would say "Oh kids adjust so quickly"? Didn't I want to scream "No! They don't! It's as tough as raw leather!"?
But isn't this the answer that works the best? Do I really want to go into how I didn't know what "Billabong" was? Do I really want to talk about how I stopped wearing skirts because all the other girls shaved their legs? Do I really want to explain the embarassment of having a guy ask you out in awkward twelve-year-old fashion and not knowing how to respond because a) I was twelve and b) about 90% of my interactions with the human species were of the female variety and c) why were people thinking about dating, hadn't I been more interested in barbies until last week? Do I want to go into an explanation of how much effort it took to be able to look into the mirror and see a friend, and not someone to hide? The answer is a resounding no. And so I fall back on my practiced pauses, the little smirk here, and sympathetic sigh there.
And there you are. That response, just like this blog post, misses the mark. Somehow I can't get to the story. The real story. The unshaven legs and the unfashionable clothes story. The smelling like Indian food and not having perpetually shiny bouncy smooth hair story. The tears in the dark and the comfort in books story. The resentment and the anger story. The not thinking dating was normal in middle school story. The realization and the adaptation story. The first awkward friendship and the friendship with myself story. The growing up story.
Perhaps it takes more growing up to write about growing up. Perhaps it isn't just my story, but the story of every girl who ever went to middle school and high school. For now the practiced little speech stands me in good stead. For now maybe it suffices to be able to think back and not cringe, to be comfortable in my own skin.